The new Publix in Town and Country Plaza and adjoining retail should start to take shape soon.
For years, Town and Country Plaza has looked like a desolate wasteland without much activity, despite its prime location at Fruitville and Beneva roads within the Sarasota city limits.
Sure, you may have popped in there to shop at Bealls over the years, or grabbed a meal at Shilla Korean Restaurant, but I wouldn't exactly call the shopping center a destination. It lost its major grocery anchor in Sweetbay Supermarket in 2013, leaving the south end of the plaza largely deserted, and once Kmart left in 2017, it got even more depressing.
But things have started to improve since Big Lots opened, and within the next few months, they should start to get even better.
How do I know that? Because of the most obvious sign of improvement for any Florida retail plaza: Publix is coming.
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Manatee County-based Benderson Development Co. has demolished the former Sweetbay grocery store and the rickety retail area by the old courtyard between the Bealls store and the Big Lots in the northwest corner of the plaza.
I spoke to Mark Chait, Benderson's executive director of leasing, last week at the International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Orlando. Chait told me that the next thing we'll likely see is the Publix facade take shape.
"There's a little bit of retail right next to Publix that will be built at the same time as Publix," Chait said. One of those tenants, according to leases filed with Sarasota County, will be Noire the Nail Bar.
After that, Benderson will begin construction on the plaza north of Bealls and west of Big Lots, Chait said.
Benderson, the same development firm behind the turnaround of shopping centers such as the Landings, Pelican Plaza and the Shops at Casey Key, is a part owner of the property. The rest is owned by Gator Investments of Miami Lakes, which knocked down the old Kmart building to construct a Big Lots and Planet Fitness in its place this year.
Gator also plans to add a Tire Kingdom next to Planet Fitness, a Dollar Tree next to Big Lots facing the parking lot, and a now-vacant 4,848-square-foot retail space, according to plans I picked up at their booth at the Orlando conference. Town and Country Plaza is Gator's only Sarasota property.
We should see construction on the Publix soon. But that raises the question — what will happen to the Publix that's already in the neighborhood? The supermarket already has a store directly north of Town and Country Plaza in Sarasota Commons, which is owned by Commodore Realty of Key Biscayne.
At the ICSC conference, I asked a few representatives at the Commodore booth about the future of their Publix. They told me they had a meeting with the supermarket chain later that day, but since then, I haven't heard back.
If that Publix closes — as I suspect it will — it wouldn't be the first time a nearby tenant relocated to Town and Country Plaza. Big Lots moved from its spot in the Northeast Plaza Shopping Center at 3251 17th St. to the Beneva Road property this year.
Yes, Town and Country Plaza may have seen better days, but it seems like we could be in for yet another Sarasota retail plaza Cinderella story. I stopped by on Wednesday, and on the Big Lots end of the plaza, you wouldn't even have known how depressing Town and Country Plaza once was. Just imagine what a Publix will be able to do.
Laura Finaldi, the Herald-Tribune’s retail and tourism reporter, can be reached at 941-361-4951 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lauraefinaldi. Join her Sarasota-Manatee Retail News page on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/sarasotamanateeretail/.